It is dismaying to see The Post's editorial board offering the same feeble excuses as Bob Woodward and his editor ["Mr. Woodward's Sources," editorial, Nov. 19]. Leaving aside for the moment Woodward's appalling misjudgment in his public comments before the revelation of his connection to this matter, there are still two important things that this editorial ignores.

One is that it is the job of the courts -- not newspapers or the reporters who work for them -- to decide how and when the law should be applied. In this case, claims of First Amendment protection were carefully considered but ultimately rejected by the U.S. District Court and upheld on appeal. Citizens, including journalists, are not exempt from judicial decisions simply because they don't agree with them.

The editorial also mentions the necessity of confidential sources to the recent Post story on the secret CIA prisons around the world. This story was reported months after the court decisions that led to the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, so it would seem that balanced adjudication is not such an impediment to journalistic excellence after all.

-- Jeff Mackey

Houston

*

As a former investigative reporter for The Post and co-byliner with investigative columnist Jack Anderson, I am appalled by your coverage of the plight of Bob Woodward and the sorry failure of other reporters to defend him.

In the front-page story about Woodward on Nov. 17, Howard Kurtz, who worked for Jack Anderson and me at one time, found several supposed experts criticizing Woodward, but not one applauding him for tenaciously defending his promise to protect his source. Your paper's Nov. 19 editorial was pusillanimous in its defense of Woodward, and the letters vilifying him, I fear, seem to reflect how the public feels.

I have known Bob Woodward for decades and defended his brilliant reporting all the way back to his early days with a Montgomery County paper, where he revealed educational system skullduggery. Anderson and I competed determinedly with Woodward on Watergate and other stories, and we know his reporting well. His integrity and ironclad devotion to the First Amendment shines in the face of the general gutlessness of many in the press -- reporters and editors alike. This toughness has been inspiring for a generation of young reporters similarly in love with the Constitution.

The Post's handling of the Woodward case is a far cry from the paper I worked for 45 years ago, when I once refused to give even my editor information. I had repeatedly sworn to a source that I would keep it secret. The Post was not happy with it, but there was no retribution.

Jack Anderson and I seldom told each other the names of our sources as one means of keeping the courts off our backs. We depended on our Constitution-minded lawyers to save us.

-- Les Whitten

Silver Spring

*

It's unfortunate that Howard Kurtz decided to use his Nov. 21 Style article, "Investigative Reporters, Digging Until It Hurts," about the "dogged, tenacious" and sometimes misunderstood nature of investigative reporters to slip in yet another "footnote" defense of Bob Woodward.

The problem with Woodward is not that he "basically writes books while remaining on the Post payroll." The problem is that The Post wants to have it both ways. The newspaper understandably wants to maintain the cachet of Watergate, best embodied by Woodward. The Post also wants to benefit from the fact that Woodward is now a player. Being a courtier to the rich and powerful has made Woodward's books, and to a lesser degree The Post's coverage of those books, must-reads and very profitable. The obvious truth is that these two roles have become incongruent with each other and have been for the better part of the past two decades.

The basic purpose of reporting -- and that goes double for investigative reporting -- is to uncover information and present that information to the people in a timely manner. Because this process can be risky, investigative reporters have deservedly been given a bit of leeway in when and how they report the news. To say that this is the type of reporting that Woodward does today is a stretch as best.

Over the past 30 years, Bob Woodward has morphed from an investigative reporter into more of a historian (more David McCullough than Dana Priest). Rather than further risking their credibility by loyally defending Woodward, it's about time that Kurtz and The Post admitted such and moved on.

-- Vincent Cobb

Clinton

*

Bob Woodward and Judith Miller have at least two things in common regarding the CIA leak case -- both received privileged information from sources whose identities they sought to protect from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, and both neglected to inform their editors until circumstances forced them to divulge this information.

The biggest difference between the reporters is that Miller went to jail to protect the name of her source while Woodward "hunkered down" because he "didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."

Contrary to Woodward's claim that "job number one" in these types of cases is "to protect my sources," his primary responsibility as a reporter is to report the news. Part of his conflict may stem from the fact that, in addition to being a highly esteemed reporter, he has become an acclaimed author. Executive Editor Len Downie said that Woodward spends most of his time working on his books. Apparently Downie is comfortable with this arrangement because Woodward "has brought this newspaper many important stories he could not have gotten without these book projects."

That, however, is the problem: Clearly, Woodward has a conflict of interest as to who should benefit most from his privileged information. In the case of the CIA leak, neither the newspaper nor the general public received any news about it.

-- Dale Pappas

Bethesda